Long Striders – Champions or Duds?

The long striding racehorse is somewhat of a contradiction in racing circles; from this type of horse we get the two extremes of racehorses, the all-time champions and the one paced snails. Why is there such a pronounced contrast in horses that have long strides?

A horse with a long stride has often been associated with champion racehorses such as Man o’ War, Secretariat and Phar Lap. A long stride can enable champion horses to cover more ground than those with shorter strides, but with a similar effort. Not all horses of this type are champions, in fact champion horses usually gather their long stride from sheer athletic traits, where as the slower types of long striders gather their stride primary from their bone structure and muscle type. Thus these two types of long striding horses each have their own specific strengths and weaknesses, which vary greatly and ultimately decide their racetrack potential. Here we analyze this group of horses by conformation and other key factors, to define each types variations, and traits.

Power gearing (Gears theory) assessed using a racehorses conformation plays a big part in the analysis of long striders, and for those un-familiar with the term it may be defined as: “The compounding relationship between the length and angles of bones and joints that are used to transmit motion. The gearing reflects the mechanical advantage resulting from a horses specific lever lengths and angles”. Power gearing gives the horse the correct ratio of speed and strength which results in optimal galloping efficiency and pace over distance.

The three basic types of long striders include:

  • Champions, clean winded, well co-coordinated with a relaxed, long and faster stride.
  • Elephants, bone structure produces long strides with a slower turnover (dour, one paced types)
  • Combination of both of the above.

Analysis of each type.

#1. Champions. This first type gathers it long stride from naturally flexible muscles, confidence, superior coordination, athleticism and clean airways. Examples of champions of this type include Man o’ War (28f stride length) & Secretariat (25f). In addition to a long stride, this type will also have a superior power gearing ratio giving it ample speed and enabling it to be versatile when needed. Being clean winded, this allows plenty of air to fill the lungs per stride. May be either a sprinter or stayer, but even if its is the later, there is still a good chance she/he will be able to sprint well fresh, and still remain competitive when dropping down sharply in distance. Despite this types long stride, its power gearing ratio gives the horse versatility meaning potential obstacles like turning tracks will not be a problem. Indeed, against popular opinion, not all long striders need course layouts with long straights to perform at there best. Common traits also include good gate speed with a superior cruising speed & added acceleration. Well geared horses with long strides can out run there shorter striding rivals, as the gearing effect means they maintain a longer & fast stride turnover, with a similar effort per stride, which over distance fatigues its shorter striding rivals trying to match pace.

Good horses will breathe in turn with each stride, meaning larger in and exhaling volumes of air gives the clean winded horse more time to lengthen its stride. Therefore horses with long strides not due to conformation are also likely to have a superior energy system. Efficient breathing also helps the horse relax during a gallop, saving it energy.

It is also reasonable to suspect that the Champions longer stride, due to its relaxed action, means the muscles are stretched to thier full extension, at the extreme reach of each stride. This gives that group of muscles potentially more energy, and a faster elastic type rebounding reaction, to propel it forward again, much like a sling shot being fully stretched to generate maximum distance/power. This may help a horse increase its stride frequency and overall speed.

The advantages listed above also result in these long striders having the racetrack ability skills to make there own luck during running.

Traits of a well geared horse with a long stride include:

  • Ability to jump well and race on the pace when racing over a suitable distance.
  • Ability to quicken and take a tactical position mid race when needed.
  • Ability to quicken as if finding another gear when let loose in the run to the line.
  • Clean winded, which helps it quickly gain fitness and save energy mid race.
  • Long stride coupled with a fast stride turnover.
  • Can often produce the goods year after year.
  • High class potential

Due to its long stride, clean wind, and relaxed galloping manner, that superior gearing can provide a racehorse, these types often gallop with good form providing the jockey with a smooth ride.

#2. Elephants. This type is likely to have a long stride due to specific bone structure lever lengths. May feel smooth to the rider. But due to lack of speed or stride turnover, this type will struggle in races shorter than its favored distance, even when presented fresh. May also struggle to gather speed going uphill , or on rain affected going. This type will lack acceleration and may well be too dour to even make the race track. Will often be described as a one paced, dour type. May be best suited to straight racing, or on course layouts with long straights. May also include sprinters, but typically these will lack gate speed, race far back in the pack, often being run off their legs in hotly contested races, but significantly also struggle to sprint off a slow pace. When stepped up in distance they will lack endurance due to their muscle type. Common type that can often be running on, seemingly impressively, but rarely winning. Trainers will often place these over jumps, but usually without success as they lack the required acceleration/speed on the flat, between jumps.

There will always be exemptions to the rule, Some Thoroughbreds with the will to win, far superior energy systems, and other valued components can still make gutsy types of class gallopers. Typically this types winning margins will be tight, and its time at the top may be shortened in comparison to the well geared top-line galloper.

Traits of a standard long strider without power gearing:

  • Lacks speed when fresh
  • Lacks gate & tactical speed
  • Dour and one paced, lacking a fast stride turnover.
  • Best suited to long straights
  • Can be run off its legs in races with a hot pace, or lack dash when pace is too slow
  • May only have a short period during his career at his peak.
  • May be too slow to even make the racetrack, lowered potential

#3. Combination. This type is typical of many long striding Thoroughbreds that make it to the racetrack, being made up of a combination of the above two types. They will posess many features of the one paced elephant type, but potentially with enough speed/strength via gearing to win some good class races and make a handy galloper.

Can a horse’s long length of stride be used to predict its preferred distance?

Although a long stride indicates a horse will get distance, this is not always the case, especially in regards to top class sprinters. Australian champion sprinter of the 70’s and 80’s, Manikato, is an excellent example of a speed horse who obtained his massive stride from sheer athleticism and flexibility. Conformation can be used as a guide to a horse’s likely preferred distance, but the prime prediction factor is likely to be the horses particular inherited muscle type, which may be dominated by either sprinting and/or endurance fibres.

Why are some horses short striders?

A racehorse may develop a shortened stride for a number of reasons including:

  • Bone structure that produces varied long or short levers in specific areas.
  • Lack of galloping confidence in the horse, which results in a tight galloping action, and limited flexibility (sometimes due to galloping mishaps pre-racing).
  • Muscle or tendon injuries, including micro tears. These repair with the purpose of adding strength rather than flexibility, and never regain full motion.
  • Bulky and shortened types of muscles lacking flexibility.
  • Breathing problems, shallow breaths may result in short strides, as generally horses produce one stride per breath.

Once a horse suffers a serious injury, the repair process of adding strength and lessoning flexibility is a natural body safety reaction. This healing process is designed to protect the horse from a repeat injury, rather than return it to its more risky and original top speed.

Summing up, the first type is typical of many champion racehorses, who possess not only a long stride, but the power gearing, of both strength and speed, to go with it. This enables them to propel themselves forward with a long stride, while also maintaining a fast stride turnover, resulting in superior speed over distance. Typically they race on the pace when placed over a suitable distances, cruise mid race, and often quickly pick up the pace turning for home. Think of many past genuine champions of the turf.

The keys that make up a champion long striding Thoroughbred:

  • Power gearing
  • Long stride due to a relaxed action, rather than specific bone structure
  • Free flowing action allowing muscles to fully stretch, maximizing the elastic rebounding affect from each stride.
  • Capable of exchanging high volumes of air per stride or breadth, superior lungs/heart
  • High stride frequency considering length of stride.

Contributed by: Ross Brunt